Your family business at risk – The impact of new industrial legislation

Recent changes in industrial relations legislation have sparked significant concern among family businesses, impacting over 900,000 enterprises across Australia.

These changes, while intended to address various employment dynamics, have inadvertently introduced challenges for family-owned enterprises without a proper debate or consideration of their unique circumstances. It’s crucial to understand the nuances of these changes and their potential implications.

Understanding the legislation’s impact on family businesses

The legislation, passed with the support of Independent Senators Jacquie Lambie and David Pocock on December 6th, introduces a provision that could have far-reaching consequences for family businesses, reshaping the dynamics of employer-employee relationships.

Under the newly passed legislation, family businesses, regardless of their size, now face the potential integration of union delegates into their operations. This provision grants unions the power to designate an employee as a delegate, thereby influencing the business’s policies and practices. For smaller family-run establishments, this sudden imposition of union involvement could disrupt their traditionally flexible and close-knit operational styles.

Compulsory union power and its implications

One of the key provisions affecting family businesses is the mandatory appointment of union delegates for any employee who holds union membership. This obligation extends across all branches or geographical locations of a family business, placing an added administrative burden on these enterprises.

A critical aspect of the legislation categorises family businesses into two groups based on their workforce size, subjecting both to compulsory union power. For those employing 15 or more individuals, the impact is substantial, as any union member among their staff can be appointed as a delegate with the authority to influence not only remuneration matters but also the overall conduct of the business.

From July 1st 2024, the legislation mandates that all enterprise agreements, awards, and similar arrangements be amended to include provisions regulating the rights, duties, and obligations of union delegates. This move has the potential to disrupt the traditional employer-employee relationships that many family enterprises hold dear.

Training requirements and challenges for family businesses

The legislation further mandates off-site training for these union-appointed delegates, adding to the operational costs for businesses employing more than 15 people. Smaller family businesses, while allowed on-site training, still face the challenge of adapting to unfamiliar union regulations.

The impact is anticipated to be particularly harsh on smaller family businesses that lack the resources to swiftly adjust to these new regulations. The shift towards stringent union rules could disrupt the delicate balance between employers and employees, a cornerstone of many successful family-owned enterprises.

Industries such as housing, especially small-scale construction, are projected to be significantly affected, potentially leading to decreased productivity and increased operational costs. This change threatens the efficiency and competitiveness that family businesses have long relied upon.

The road ahead for family businesses

As we grapple with the implications of these changes, it is imperative to recognise the potential fallout for family businesses, especially smaller operations that may struggle to adapt to the intricate web of regulations. The impending challenges underscore the need for a nuanced and informed approach to industrial relations, prioritising the unique dynamics and flexibility that family businesses bring to the economic landscape.

In the upcoming years, family businesses may face an unprecedented test of resilience and adaptability. As advisers to family business owners, our role is pivotal in guiding you through these changes, ensuring compliance while preserving the essence of what makes family enterprises thrive – flexibility, collaboration, and a strong sense of community.

The rise of sole traders

Among those significantly impacted by the recent industrial relations legislation are rising female entrepreneurs. The changes brought forth by these regulations compel many to reconsider their operational strategies. For these entrepreneurs, maintaining the refreshingly flexible approach they have embraced in their businesses might necessitate a shift towards becoming sole traders.

Sole traders, in essence, operate as independent entities, unencumbered by the intricate web of regulations that the new legislation imposes on family businesses. This sudden attractiveness of the sole trader status stems from its inherent flexibility and streamlined operational model, allowing entrepreneurs to navigate the shifting landscape with relative ease. However, this shift demands careful consideration of the potential impact on operations, client relationships, and long-term sustainability.

Our KMT advisers specialise in business structuring, and we understand the complexity of these decisions. If you’re a rising entrepreneur contemplating the transition to sole trader status or a family business owner seeking clarity on the best approach amidst these industrial shifts, we encourage you to schedule an appointment with us now!

Speak with our trusted KMT advisers to learn how we can help you navigate these regulatory changes!

About our adviser: Michael Fox has been dedicated to the success of his clients, devising comprehensive wealth strategies for both personal and business growth for over 40 years. With extensive expertise in business governance and family business succession, Michael specialises in empowering emerging businesses and family enterprises by fostering renewal, enhancing value and smooth transitions to the next generation. Please do not hesitate to reach out if you need assistance with your business succession planning for your family business.


Robert Gottliebsen, Business Columnist, The Australian


This is general advice only and does not take into account your financial circumstances, needs and objectives. The article should not be relied upon as specific information or advice without obtaining appropriate professional advice after a detailed examination of your particular situation from a qualified KMT adviser.